100+ former players suing World Rugby over brain injuries

By Will Trafford

Photo / NZME

Former All Black and Māori All Black Carl Hayman is among more than 100 ex-rugby players, taking legal action against World Rugby, for what they say is a breach of duty to protect them from permanent injuries, caused by repeated head knocks during their playing careers.

Hayman (Ngāti Tūwharetoa) is standing alongside other former internationals such as Steve Thompson, who played for England and Alix Popham, who played for Wales.

The men suffer from a variety of neurological impairments such as early onset dementia, CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), epilepsy, Parkinson's disease and motor neurone disease.

Rylands Legal, the firm representing the players in a class-action claims governing bodies did not educate players about the risks of brain damage or give them regular monitoring or seek expert medical advice.

"The players we represent love the game," Rylands said in a statement.

"We aim to challenge the current perceptions of the governing bodies, to reach a point where they accept the connection between repetitive blows to the head and permanent neurological injury and to take steps to protect players and support those who are injured."

'Making the game safer'

The firm says it’s in contact with more than 185 former players, the majority of whom are part of the class action lawsuit, which is also pursuing the national governing bodies of England and Wales.

"This claim isn't just about financial compensation," Rylands said. “It is also about making the game safer and ensuring current and former players get tested so that if they are suffering a brain injury they can get the clinical help they need."

Hayman (41) went public with his CTE diagnosis last year, having played 45 tests for the All Blacks between 2001 and 2007, he told Dylan Cleaver’s ‘The Bounce’ the toll on his brain was irreparable.

“I spent several years thinking I was going crazy. At one stage that’s genuinely what I thought. It was the constant headaches and all these things going on that I couldn’t understand,” Hayman said.

Hayman said he was dogged by erratic behaviour he couldn't explain and suicidal thoughts, which led him to abuse alcohol.

“At the time I felt indestructible. I never got injured, I trained bloody hard but, if I knew then what I know now, I don’t think I would have played post the [2007] World Cup. I think I would have stopped playing.”

Rylands Legal says it is the biggest class action of its kind outside of the United States, where the national football league has paid out more than NZ$800 million for players who developed dementia or other concussion-related health problems.

The NFL set up a fund to cover more than 20,000 retirees of the game who may suffer illnesses, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease or dementia; allowing it to prevent a battle in the courts, which legal analysts, said at the time may have cost it significantly more.

It's expected the American fund will need to exceed $1 billion.

Rylands Legal says it also represents 75 rugby league players in a similar potential claim which could be levelled against England's Rugby Football League.

Te Ao Māori News has approached the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) for comment.

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